Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bush vs. Obama - Frittering Away Approval

I recently posted an article looking at the approval and net approval ratings of President Obama.  To keep Obama's approval rating in context, from Real Clear Politics, here is a comparison of the approval ratings from George W. Bush's first term (in grey) with those of the current president (in black) at the same time in their mandate:

Please note that the data in brackets throughout this posting is the net approval rating calculated by subtracting the disapproving percentage from the approving percentage.  

The first data point for President Bush was 60 percent on February 19, 2011 with a net approval of +39 percentage points.  In the first six months after he was elected, President Bush's approval rating ranged from a low of 51 in early July 2001 (+12 percentage points) and a peak of 58.7 percent (+27.6 percentage points) in late April 2001.  By way of comparison, President Obama's initial approval rating was 63.3 percent (+43.3 percentage points)  In the first six months after he was elected, President Obama's approval rating ranged from a low of 54.1 percent (+13.2 percentage points) and a peak of 65.5 percent (+40 percentage points) in mid-February 2011.  Generally, as you can see on the graph, the approval rating of both presidents pretty much tracked over the first eight months after the election, however, for a good part of that period, President Bush's approval rating lagged behind that of the current president.  The biggest difference is found in the net approval data; Bush's net approval was generally higher than Obama's since his disapproval rating was lower.

The biggest change in approval for President Bush came in the week of September 13 to 19th, 2009.  Bush's approval rating jumped from 53 percent on September 12, 2001 the day after the Twin Towers came down to 81 percent by the end of that week with only 12 percent of Americans disapproving of his performance for an amazing net approval rating of +69 percentage points.  President Bush's approval rating peaked at a whopping 89.8 percent (+82.8 percentage points) on October 14, 2001 and remained above 80 percent until February 22, 2002.  Even then, his net approval rating was still +66.6 percentage points.  By way of comparison, at the same point in time in the Obama presidency, his approval rating was only 47.2 percent (+1.4 percentage points).

By the time the invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003, Bush's approval had dropped to the mid-50s.  After the invasion, his approval rose from 57.2 percent (+20.7 percentage points) and peaked at 72 percent (+49.7 percentage points) in mid-April 2003.  At this point in the Obama presidency, his net approval rating was mired in negative territory.

As 2003 progressed, Bush's approval rating slowly fell toward the mid- to low- 50s, however his approval was generally about 10 percentage points higher than Obama's.  Bush's net approval rating also remained well in positive territory compared to Obama's which was often lower than -5 percentage points.

By the middle of February of both 2004 and 2012, the approval rating of the two presidents began to track.  By the end of May in those years, Obama's approval rating surpassed that of Bush for the first time since 9/11.

I found it quite fascinating to compare the approval ratings of both presidencies.  Given that President Bush's popularity swelled during a national crisis and then again when war was declared in Iraq, perhaps the lesson is that presidencies need to rise to meet an emergency situation in an election year  to boost their support and assure their re-election.  Unfortunately, as we saw in the case of President Bush, any good will that he had generated with the American electorate during 2001 and 2003 was frittered away by the time the 2004 election rolled around.

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